Lionel Messi has his World Cup title, and the Argentina fans who turned Doha into a suburb of Buenos Aires for the past month are heading home. No word on whether they’re taking all that Budweiser with them – or if there’s even any left after the post-game party.
After a month of spectacular goals and riveting games, this controversial and most unusual World Cup has come to an end. FIFA and Qatar officials owe Messi something more than that black bisht for taking some of the attention away from their failings, but the complicated legacy of this tournament will endure.
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A look at the winners and losers from this World Cup:
Duh. Already considered the G.O.A.T. by many, he cemented that status with a World Cup title.
His performance in this World Cup was not simply a cameo by an aging star, either. Messi’s Golden Ball award, given to the best player of the tournament, was well-deserved. His seven goals were one fewer than Kylian Mbappé, and he became the first man to score in the group stage and every knockout-round game. He also had three assists, tied for the tournament high.
Often overlooked is the impact Messi had on his young Argentina teammates, many of whom grew up idolizing him. They blossomed as this tournament went along, their confidence bolstered by Messi’s support. Enzo Fernández, who once wrote Messi a letter begging him to keep playing for Argentina, won the Young Player of the tournament award. Julián Álvarez, who has a photo with Messi from when he was 12, tied Olivier Giroud for the third-most goals in the tournament.
“Everything he transmits to his teammates is unparalleled, something I’ve never seen before,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said. “He’s a player who gives so much to his teammates.”
Messi said again after the final this was his last World Cup, and what a way for him to go out. He won Argentina its third World Cup title, and leaves a foundation that will continue to make the Albiceleste a contender in the future.
It’s always a little cringey when comparisons to someone like Pelé are thrown around. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a player, especially one as young as Mbappé was when they began.
But Mbappe, who turns 24 on Tuesday, has shown he’s deserving of every bit of his acclaim. And then some.
He was France’s most indispensable player, scoring half its 16 goals at this World Cup. He single-handedly kept Les Bleus in the game against Argentina, turning a rout into the most thrilling World Cup Final ever.
Argentina was 10 minutes from winning in regulation when Mbappe scored twice in a 90-second span. After Messi scored in extra time, Mbappe equalized again.
He won the Golden Boot with eight goals, the most in a single World Cup since Ronaldo in 2002. He’s tied with Pele with 12 World Cup goals overall, and needs only four more to match Miroslav Klose’s record.
“Kylian has really left his mark on the final,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t leave it in the way he would have liked. That’s why he was so disappointed at the end of the night.”
It bears repeating, though, that Mbappé is only turning 24. He could easily play in another three World Cups.
On Monday morning, Mbappé posted a photo of himself looking downcast as he held his Golden Boot award, the World Cup trophy in the distance.
“We’ll be back,” he captioned it.
There were fears before the World Cup began about the quality of a tournament being played in the middle of the European season. There were big names who missed because of injuries picked up right before it began – Karim Benzema, Marco Reus and Sadio Mané, to name a few – and concerns the players in Qatar would be too fatigued to be in top form.
Those worries were for naught. The World Cup was a continuously wild and delightful ride, with each day bringing another compelling game. Saudi Arabia stunning Argentina. Japan shocking Germany. The USMNT “beating” England. Croatia ousting Brazil. The Netherlands coming back against Argentina.
And, of course, Morocco’s wonderful and unexpected run.
It culminated with what wound up being arguably the best World Cup Final ever. If you can’t get behind the beautiful game after that captivating, heart-in-your-mouth thriller, you’ll never get it.
Having his greatest rival win the World Cup, a title he lacks, would sting enough. That Messi was commanding the spotlight while Ronaldo was relegated to Portugal's bench adds a whole other level of humiliation.
He's without a club and is no longer a mainstay with his country. What a comedown for a player once thought capable of being in the conversation for best ever.
What is time? When it came to this World Cup, nobody knew!
Soccer fans are accustomed to three, four, even five minutes being added onto halves to account for injuries, fouls and other stoppages in play. But it bordered on the ridiculous at this World Cup, with nine and 10 minutes of stoppage time becoming routine.
If you’re going to tack on that many minutes, it’s not stoppage time. It’s an entirely new segment of the game.
FIFA and Qatar
Compelling as the games were, they can’t erase the human rights abuses, double dealing and back stabbing, and general ickiness that surrounded this tournament.
FIFA, hardly a paragon of virtue to begin with, sold out whatever was left of its integrity two days before the World Cup began when it went along with Qatar’s demand to throw longtime sponsor Budweiser under the bus and not sell alcoholic beer at the stadiums. It allowed LGBTQ fans and allies to be harassed at stadiums and other official sites, and was silent on the marginalization of women.
Qatar, meanwhile, hurt its long-term ambitions both as a tourist destination and for hosting major sporting events. Rather than appearing welcoming and urbane like neighboring Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it came off as provincial and small-minded. Its organization of the tournament was surprisingly clunky after having 12 years to prepare, with ticketing and crowd control an issue throughout the World Cup.
Let’s never, ever do this again.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: World Cup winners, losers: Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé, glorious games